U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Hollywood last year to cajole filmmakers and movie stars into making pictures that portray the U.N.'s good works. The Whistleblower, a scathing full-length account of the U.N. peacekeeping effort in Bosnia during the late 1990s, is not what he had in mind.
The Samuel Goldwyn Films movie, which is due out in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on Aug. 5, stars British actress Rachel Weisz as a U.N. policewoman who stumbles into the sordid world of Balkan sex trafficking and finds her fellow U.N. peacekeepers implicated in the trade.
It constitutes perhaps the darkest cinematic portrayal of a U.N. operation ever on the big screen, finding particular fault with top U.N. brass, the U.S. State Department, and a major U.S. contractor that supplies American policemen for U.N. missions.
The subject matter is familiar territory for Turtle Bay. A decade ago, I wrote a series of stories on U.N. police misconduct in Bosnia for the Washington Post, including a detailed account of U.S. police abuses and this piece documenting U.N. efforts to quash an investigation by a former Philadelphia cop, David Lamb, into allegations that Romanian peacekeepers participated in sex trafficking.
I would later contact Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop (played by Weisz) who serves as the film's hero, and report on her lawsuit for wrongful dismissal against the subsidiary of an American contractor, DynCorp International, which hired her in Bosnia. (DynCorp countered that it had fired Bolkovac in part because she had falsified work documents, claiming hundreds of dollars in unwarranted per diem expenses.) Bolkovac's fictional employer in the film, Democra Services, appears to be based on DynCorp.
The actual abuses in Bosnia were so shocking that the film's director, Larysa Kondracki, told Turtle Bay that she had to tone it down to make it believable and to ensure that viewers didn't "tune it out." The movie, she said, in some ways resembles a "70s paranoid thriller" in which it can be hard to tell the difference between the heroes and the villains. Kondracki declined to name DynCorp as the model for the company portrayed in the movie, citing unspecified legal concerns.
A spokeswoman for DynCorp International, Ashley Burke, told Turtle Bay: "I haven't seen the movie so I can't comment on its content, but I can tell you that, when we contacted the film's distributor to learn more about the movie, we were informed that the film 'is a fictionalized dramatic presentation' that while inspired by Ms. Bolkovac's experiences, is not based on her book. There was no threatened legal action taken to ensure they did not use the company's name in the film."
The film opens with two Ukrainian 15-year-olds, Raya and Luba, partying in Kiev before heading off to the home of a devious in-law of one of the girls. He promises them high-paying jobs in a Swiss Hotel, but instead sells them off into sexual slavery in post-civil war Bosnia.
On the other side of the world, in Lincoln, Nebraska, Bolkovac has hit a dead end in her own police career when a friendly captain shows her a brochure from Democra Services. "They need good people to get the country up and running," he says. "Kathy, I think you'd be great at this."
Bolkovac jumps at the opportunity of a tax-free $100,000 salary, the prospect of adventure, and a rare chance to help a war-wracked, ethnically divided country return to the rule of law.
What she gradually discovers is a community of U.S. cops and other international peacekeepers corrupted by the moral compromises they make in Bosnia. What's worse, she learns, is that the U.N. diplomatic and peacekeeping corps are the brothels' primary customers, and in some cases they are actually trafficking Eastern European women into Bosnia.
Madeleine Rees (played by Vanessa Redgrave), a former U.N. human rights official who served in Bosnia, is the inspiration for one of the film's few heroic characters. As the U.N.'s top human rights officer in Bosnia, she recruits Bolkovac and encourages her to launch an investigation into sex trafficking. She puts her in touch with an internal affairs investigator, played by David Strathairn, who helps her navigate the U.N.'s treacherous bureaucracy.
Her investigation ultimately brings her into contact with Luba and Raya, whom she convinces to cooperate but whose lives she is ultimately unable to protect from their brutal Balkan pimps. The characters are essentially composites of the women who were enslaved in Bosnian brothels at the time. But Kondracki said that everything bad that happens in the film to the two girls -- one is tortured and the other murdered -- actually happened to women in Bosnia.
Indeed many of the most disturbing practices depicted in the film -- including the U.N. peacekeepers purchase of trafficked women -- have emerged in internal U.N. investigations. Some of the most disturbing practices by DynCorp employees came to light in court when Ben D. Johnston, an aircraft mechanic who worked for DynCorp in Bosnia in the late 1990s, sued the company in Fort Worth, Texas, charging he was punished for uncovering wrongdoing by DynCorp employees, including involvement in sexual slavery and the purchase of illegal weapons.
In the film, Bolkovac encounters violent resistance from Balkan organized-crimes elements as she tries to free the Ukrainian women and break up the sex-trafficking ring. But she also finds her efforts undermined by U.N. bureaucrats. Monica Bellucci, the cultured and stylish official from the International Migration Organization, callously returns the girls to the local police, who are on the payroll of their pimps, because they can't produce legal ID photos. The U.N. leadership, meanwhile, at the request of the U.S. State Department and Democra, has shut down her investigation and fires her.
The film's real-life heroes, Bolkovac and Rees, have long since left the United Nations. But DynCorp has prospered, securing billions of dollars in security contracts for the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has continued to be dogged by allegations of drug abuse and other misconduct problems.
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Judges from the International Criminal Court on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi, his son and a top military intelligence chief, calling for them to to stand trial for crimes against humanity in connection with a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters earlier this year.
The three-judge pre-trial chamber ruled that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had established "reasonable grounds" to charge Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Abdullah Al-Senussi, the chief of military intelligence, with the murder and persecution of hundreds of Libyan civilians since the government began suppressing public protests on Feb. 15.
In issuing the ruling, Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said there was sufficient evidence to believe that the three Libyans "have committed the crimes alleged by the prosecutor" and that "their arrest appears necessary" to ensure they appear before the Hague-based court and to prevent them from continuing further crimes against the Libyan population.
She said the court's registrar would seek the cooperation of Libya and other governments in securing the three men's surrender.
Gaddafi has made it clear he does not recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court, and it remains highly unlikely that his own government would surrender him or members of his inner circle. Please read the entire story here at the Washington Post.
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Sri Lanka has offered to supply the U.N. with three Mi-24 attack helicopters and a pair of fix wing aircraft, a pledge that would help the U.N. meet a severe a shortfall in lethal combat equipment in places like Congo and Sudan and help protect civilians, U.N. based officials told Turtle Bay.
But the U.N. may not be able to accept them.
The Sri Lankan armed forces have come under scrutiny for allegedly committing mass atrocities during the final 2009 offensive against the country's separatists Tamil Tigers. A decision to accept the Sri Lankan offer would not only generate controversy but potentially trigger a U.S. review of Sri Lanka's human rights conduct.
Under the so-called Leahy law, written by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)the State Department is required to vet the human rights records of foreign military contingents serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions, if there is reason to believe they may have been engaged in atrocities.
An independent panel, set up by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon, concluded in April that there are "credible allegations" that Sri Lanka troops, as well as the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. More than 40,000 civilians may have died in the war, most of them victims of indiscriminate government shelling, according to the U.N. panel.
The Sri Lanka pledge appears calculated to improve Sri Lanka's relationship with the United Nations at a time when it is facing mounting U.N. pressure to hold alleged war criminals within the army's ranks accountable for crimes, according to U.N. officials. It would certainly be harder, they say, to criticize Colombo if the organization was dependent on its air force for vital assets in combat.
Peacekeepers from other countries, including Rwanda, have faced scrutiny over alleged rights abuses. The Rwanda government threatened to withdraw its peacekeeping force from Darfur, Sudan, after the U.N. moved to force out a Rwandan commander, General Karake Karenzi, who was allegedly involved in rights abuses in Rwanda and eastern Congo during the mid to late 1990s. The United States backed Karenzi, despite internal U.S. government concerns about his rights record.
Sri Lanka has participated in U.N. peacekeeping operations for more than 50 years, and it currently has more than 1,200 blue helmets serving in U.N. missions. In his September 2010 address to the U.N. General Assembly, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaska, defended Sri Lanka's conduct during the war while affirming Sri Lanka's "willingness to further enhance our support to the U.N. Peacekeeping Operations."
"Our armed forces and the police are today combat tested, with a capacity to carry out their duties in the most challenging conditions."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today dismissed a U.S.-backed European effort to adopt a U.N. resolution condemning Syria's bloody crackdown on protesters as a meaningless gesture, saying "it is not enough to pass non-binding measures wagging a finger at Damascus."
The Florida Republican said the United Nations must "impose strong sanctions on Damascus" in response to its "nuclear intransigence, its gross human rights abuses, its longstanding development of unconventional and ballistic missile capabilities, and its support for violent extremists."
"A non-binding measure will fail to compel the regime to change its behavior," she added. "Responsible nations must develop, implement, and enforce stronger sanctions, in the Security Council and beyond, in order to meet this goal."
It is true that a European draft Security Council resolution, backed by the United States, contains no specific threat to punish Syria with sanctions or military force, though it does call on states to prevent Syria from trading in weapons. But is it the toothless initiative she claims it is?
U.S. officials say that they have focused on imposing unilateral sanctions on Syria because the prospects for concerted U.N. action on that front is dim, given resistance from several council members: China, Russia, Lebanon, India, South Africa, and Brazil.
These governments see the European initiative to condemn Syria less as a feckless exercise than a potentially sinister first step in process that may exacerbate political tensions in the Middle East or lead to possible foreign intervention in Syria. Russia and China may be prepared to exercise their veto power to stop it.
"It could be misunderstood by destructive opposition forces in Syria who, as you know, declare they want regime change in Damascus," Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin told Russian state television this week.
The reason that Moscow and Beijing are so alarmed about the draft is that experience at the United Nations demonstrates that once the Security Council makes a demand of a country, it frequently comes back to demand more if it is ignored.
On February 22, a week after Muammar al-Qaddafi ordered a bloody crackdown on Libyan demonstrators, the council adopted a "non-binding" presidential statement condemning Tripoli's action and demanding that it stop. Qaddafi ignored it.
Within a month, the Security Council had issued two legally binding, Chapter 7 enforcement resolutions imposing sanctions on Libya, launching an International Criminal Court prosecution, and authorizing military action against Qaddafi's forces. Clearly, the threshold for action is considerably higher in Syria, which still can count on support at the United Nations from Arab governments. But events on the ground, including fresh reports of government repression and the flight of Syrians into Turkey, could change governments' calculations.
Wide-ranging Security Council sanctions against Iran and North Korea also began with relatively mild non-binding statements demanding that Tehran and Pyongyang halt the development of their ballistic missile and nuclear programs. For the moment, the Security Council has yet to act on the International Atomic Energy Agency's determination that Syria was secretly developing a clandestine nuclear reactor before Israeli destroyed it in a September 2007 airstrike.
But U.S. and European governments will likely address Syria's nuclear ambitions after they finish the current push to censor their alleged political repression of civilians.
The draft resolution currently under consideration condemns Syria's "systematic violation" of human rights, "demands" an immediate end to the violence, and "unfettered" access to U.N. rights monitors and aid workers. It also calls on Syria to lift the siege on anti-government towns, implement democratic reforms, and cooperate with the U.N.
In some sense, the most important are a pair of provisions at the end of the draft that require the U.N. secretary-general to report on Syria's compliance with the council's demands within two weeks, and then again every month after, ensuring that the Security Council will have frequent opportunities to ratchet up the pressure. The council will, as they say in U.N. parlance, "remain actively seized of the matter."
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Britain introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution today condemning Syria's "systematic" violations of human rights as part of a bloody crackdown on anti-government demonstrations, and calling for a "credible and impartial" investigation into abuses of peaceful demonstrators, according to a confidential copy of the draft obtained by Turtle Bay.
The British draft, which was co-sponsored by France, Germany, and Portugal, aims at using the U.N. Security Council to ratchet up political pressure on Syria to restrain its forces. But it faces the prospects of a veto by China and Russia, Syria's closest allies on the 15-nation council. The United States has vowed to support the draft resolutions.
U.N. diplomats say they are confident that they have secured the minimum nine votes required for adoption of a resolution, and they were prepared to risk a veto from Russia or China. "If anyone votes against that resolution or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience," British Prime Minister David Cameron said today.
Here is a copy of the British draft resolution:
Draft SCR on Syria
The Security Council,
Expressing grave concern at the situation in Syria and condemning the violence and use of force,
Welcoming the Secretary-General's statements articulating continued concerns about the on-going violence and humanitarian needs, and calling for an independent investigation of all killings during recent demonstrations,
Welcoming also the G8 statement of 27 May 2011, and other regional and bilateral diplomatic efforts to address the deteriorating situation in Syria,
Welcoming further Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/RES/S-16/1 of 29 April 2011, including the decision to request the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to dispatch a mission to Syria to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law and to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability,
Considering that the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in Syria by the authorities against its people may amount to crimes against humanity,
Expressing concern at the reports of shortages of medical supplies to treat the wounded, caused partly by deliberate prevention of such supplies by the Government of Syria, and at the reports of numerous civilians trying to flee the violence,
Echoing the Secretary-General's concern at the humanitarian impact of the violence on a number of Syrian towns, and fully supporting the UN's humanitarian assessment mission to Syria,
Recalling the Syrian authorities' responsibility to protect its population, and to allow unhindered and sustained access for humanitarian aid and humanitarian organisations,
Underlining the need to respect the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of expression, including freedom of the media and access for international media,
Stressing that the only solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, noting the stated intention of the Government of Syria to take steps for reform, regretting the lack of progress in implementation, and stressing the need for the Syrian Government to implement reforms fully,
Stressing also the need to hold to account those responsible for attacks, including by forces under the control of the Government of Syria, on peaceful protesters and other individuals,
Reaffirming its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria,
Concerned by the continuing deterioration of the situation in Syria and the potential for further escalation of the violence,
Further concerned by the risks to regional peace and stability posed by the deteriorating situation in Syria, and mindful of its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security under the Charter of the United Nations,
1. Condemns the systematic violation of human rights, including the killings, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and torture of peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists by the Syrian authorities, and violence against security forces, and expresses deep regret at the deaths of hundreds of people;
2. Demands an immediate end to the violence, and for steps to address the legitimate aspirations of the population, and calls upon all sides to act with utmost restraint, respect human rights law and international humanitarian law, and refrain from reprisals;
3. Calls upon the Syrian authorities to:
(a) immediately lift the siege of affected towns, including Jisr al-Shughour and Deraa, restore medical, fuel and electricity supplies and communications, and allow immediate, unfettered and sustained access for international human rights monitors and humanitarian agencies and workers;
(b) implement reforms aimed at allowing genuine political participation, inclusive dialogue and effective exercise of fundamental freedoms, immediately release all prisoners of conscience and arbitrarily detained persons, and immediately lift restrictions on all forms of media; and;
(c) launch a credible and impartial investigation in accordance with its international obligations and hold to account those responsible for attacks against peaceful demonstrators, including by forces under the control of the Syrian Government, and co-operate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights mission as set forth in Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/RES/S-16/1 of 29 April 2011;
4. Calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to Syria of arms and related materiel of all types;
5. Requests the Secretary-General to report on implementation of this resolution within 14 days of its adoption, and every 30 days thereafter;
6. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.
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Last week, the U.N.'s human rights office in Sudan produced an internal memo concluding that last month's Sudanese military "attack and occupation" of the disputed town of Abyei "is tantamount to ethnic cleansing," according to a copy of the confidential memo obtained by Turtle Bay.
The memo said that the nature of the attack and forced displacement of tens of thousands of black ethnic Ngok Dinka, including the destruction of their homes and the seizure of their property by ethnic Arab Misseriya tribes, made the prospects for their return dim. The action, it said, would also complicate international efforts to resolve an ongoing dispute over Abyei's chances for independence.
"By destroying their homes, looting their properties and inspiring fear and terror, over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas have been forcefully displaced from their ancestral homes, leaving the Abyei area now more or less homogenously occupied by the Misseriya," the report stated. "The likelihood of all the Ngok Dinkas returning to Abyei is limited.… The Government of Sudan must be held accountable."
But the U.N. has since backed off the claim that ethnic cleansing had occurred. A revised, softened version of the memo, according to a report in the Associated Press, only claimed that the Sudanese Armed Forces' "occupation" of Abyei might result in ethnic cleansing. "The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing, if conditions for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka residents are not created," according to the report.
The watered-down language followed assurances by Sudan that it would help pave the way for the return of nearly 80,000 Ngok Dinka residents, including 30,000 inside the town of Abyei, according to U.N. officials. There was also a question about whether thousands of nomadic ethnic Arab Misseriya who joined Sudanese forces in looting and burning homes in Abyei really intended to stay in Abyei. Traditionally, the Misseriya have only entered the region temporarily to graze their cattle during the dry season.
Speaking at a press conference at U.N. headquarters today, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon said that Khartoum pledged to pave the way for thousands of residents to ultimately return to their homes in Abyei. He endorsdd the U.N.'s softer line on characterizing the Sudanese attack, saying it is “far too early to claim that ethnic cleansing is taking place."
The five-page memo, which was written by the human rights section of the U.N. Mission in Sudan, said the latest flare-up of violence in Abyei started on May 19 in the town of Dokura, when forces of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) allegedly opened fire on a U.N.-escorted convoy composed of troops from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), killing two Sudanese soldiers and blowing up a U.N. truck.
Fearing reprisals, most of the areas' civilians, primarily Ngok Dinkas, fled en masse toward the southern town of Agok, leaving behind an unknown number of civilians and groups of armed youth seeking to defend their towns. U.N. ground patrols and aerial surveillance showed that Abyei was "virtually empty and deserted" by the time Sudanese forces seized the town but that "a number of the Abyei residents were killed during the attack as evidenced by dead bodies that were seen lying around in Abyei." In the end, Sudanese forces and their allies burned as many as 20 percent of the homes in Abyei to the ground.
Two days later, the Sudanese army responded with a massive military assault, bombing and shelling SPLA positions in the Abyei region, including the villages of Todach, Tajalei, Noong, Leu, Makir Abior, Awolnom, and Marial Achack. Days later, the Sudanese army blew up the Banton Bridge on the River Kiir, south of Abyei, undermining the ability of most locals who fled south from the violence to return.
"On the night of 21 May 2011, SAF attacked and took control of Abyei, amidst artillery shelling, armored tank firing, mortar shelling, and machine gun fire," according to the memo. "There was heavy fighting, especially around UNMIS compound, presumably between the SAF and South Sudan Police Services (SSPS) and possibly armed Ngok youths. UNMIS was accidentally shelled five times. Four of the shells exploded resulting in minor injuries to 2 Egyptian TCC soldiers and the destruction of one UNWFP vehicle. It took a direct hit and burned."
The following day, pro-Khartoum militia from the Misseriya tribe and forces of the People's Defense Forces moved into Abyei. "They began moving from tukul [dwelling] to tukul, and allegedly killed residents trapped therein, mostly Ngok Dinkas. An elderly woman who took refuge in the UN camp, in an interview, stated that her 37 year [old] son … was murdered.… Another woman also sheltered at UNMIS claimed that she was raped."
The Sudanese Armed Forces commander, Brig. Gen. Azdeen Osman, prevented U.N. peacekeepers from entering the town of Abyei until nearly four days after the attack began, citing security concerns.
"The Abyei attack, from all indications is not a retaliatory and offensive action occasioned" by the SPLA's May 19 attack, according to the memo. "Rather, the attack and occupation of Abyei by SAF was part of a deliberate plan by the north conceived long before the Dokura incident."
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Nearly two months ago the U.N.'s chief peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, convened a press conference to talk up a string of U.N. successes around the world.
In Haiti, the United Nations helped usher through a relatively peaceful political transition; in Ivory Coast, U.N. attack helicopters backed a French assault that brought down Ivoirian strongman Laurent Gbagbo; and in Sudan, the United Nations oversaw a landmark independence referendum in Southern Sudan that is likely to set the stage for the south's recognition this summer as the U.N.'s newest member. "In the three cases, the peacekeepers made a huge difference," Le Roy said.
Le Roy contrasted the U.N.'s achievements with the darkest days of U.N. peacekeeping in the 1990s when U.N. blue helmets stood by in the face of mass atrocities in places like Srebrenica and Rwanda, and paid tribute to the sacrifices of U.N. personnel who had died in the cause of peace, including 44 U.N. civilian and uniformed peacekeepers who were killed in a 10-day stretch in Afghanistan, Congo, Haiti, and Ivory Coast.
But in recent weeks the U.N. has suffered some heavy body blows to its reputation: In Haiti, a medical panel published circumstantial evidence suggesting U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal may have been responsible for introducing cholera into Haiti, killing more than 4,000 people. And in the contested town of Abyei, Sudan, a battalion of 850 U.N. peacekeepers from Zambia hid in their barracks as Sudanese forces looted and burned homes, prompting sharp criticism from local officials and U.N. Security Council diplomats who described their conduct as disgraceful.
Violence flared up last month in Abyei, Sudan's most dangerous flashpoint, in the run-up of Southern Sudan's plan to declare independence next month from the north, splitting Africa's largest country into two nations. Abyei was supposed to join Southern Sudan in holding a referendum on independence, but the move stalled over differences involving oil revenues, water, and voting rights. The dispute pits the farming tribes of the Ngok Dinka, who are aligned with the south, against the Khartoum-backed nomadic herding tribes of the Misseriya, who graze their cattle in Abyei during the dry season. U.N. officials have long feared that a fight over Abyei could trigger a resumption of civil war between north and south, which claimed more than 2 million lives before a 2005 peace accord halted the fighting.
Troops from the southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army opened fire on a contingent of U.N. peacekeepers escorting a Sudanese military convoy. The Sudanese military's reaction appeared premeditated and disproportionate, according to U.N. diplomats. Sudanese aircraft, tanks, and troops riding motorcycles attacked the town, burning homes and looting property. Nearly 80,000 people, mostly members of the Ngok Dinka tribe, fled their homes, and thousands of pro-government Arab Misseriya tribesmen have since flowed into to take up residence. An internal U.N. report, obtained by the Associated Press, said the Sudanese Armed Forces' "occupation" of Abyei might result in ethnic cleansing. "The SAF attack and occupation of Abyei and the resultant displacement of over 30,000 Ngok Dinkas from Abyei could lead to ethnic cleansing, if conditions for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka residents are not created," according to the report.
Responsibility for the current upsurge in violence in Abyei rests primarily with Khartoum and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement. But the episode provided another depressing example of U.N. timidity that recalled some of the worst moments in U.N. history. A battalion of Zambian blue helmets based in Abyei remained in their barracks for two days as Sudan's army attacked the town, ignoring pleas from the U.N. special representative, Haile Menkerios, to take action. "When the Sudanese army invaded, they retreated to their bunkers," Asha Abbas Akuei, who represents Abyei in the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, told Rebecca Hamilton in an article published on Slate.
The Abyei episode points to a deeper problem that has plagued many of the U.N.'s most complex peacekeeping missions. The United Nations has been forced to rely primarily on infantry troops from developing countries without the more advanced military hardware -- including attack helicopters, advanced logistics, and intelligence -- that is required to succeed, according to peacekeeping experts. "Large-scale heavy infantry frankly don't do much to reinforce the political process unless they have mobility that can deliver military punch," said Bruce Jones, director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
In Ivory Coast, where the U.N. certified the presidential election of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara last November, the U.N. peacekeeping mission failed to compel the loser, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down or to protect civilians targeted by his forces. It was not until France, backed by U.N. peacekeepers and forces loyal to Ouattara, intervened that the course of the conflict changed and Gbagbo was deposed.
"So here we were in Cote d'Ivoire in a total stalemate, going nowhere against a second-tier army," Jones said. "It took a combination of Ouattara's forces and the French to turn the day. It shows a very small contribution of high-order [military] capability can transform a peacekeeping force from being irrelevant to being very productive. It shows that peacekeeping can work, but it took a while to get there."
Abyei, Jones added, provides a painful illustration of the limits of U.N. peacekeeping without the advanced military resources that the French were able to bring to bear in Ivory Coast, but which no major outside power has been willing to commit to Sudan. The few countries that possess those capabilities, including the United States, Britain, France, and other advanced military powers, have been unwilling to supply them, citing other obligations from Afghanistan to Iraq and now Libya. Khartoum, meanwhile, has sought to block Western powers with the military wherewithal to confront his troops from serving in the country.
"It's very far from clear that large-scale infantry can do much in Abyei," Jones said. "So, we're spending a billion dollars a year" to field a peacekeeping mission "without the vital ingredient that can actually make it work. If we can't stop major violations … then what are we doing there?"
A U.N. peacekeeping spokesman, Michel Bonnardeaux, said a review of the Zambians' conduct concluded that "our troops could have and should have had more visibility to deter any violence against civilians and the destruction against property." But "it must be recognized that most civilians left the area before the peak of the crisis and that UNMIS [the U.N. Mission in Sudan] troops and civilians were themselves in imminent danger as the UNMIS compound was hit," he said.
Bonnardeaux said the U.N.'s top military advisor, who traveled to Sudan to interview the Zambians, has instructed the contingent "to be more proactive and visible" in the future.
The U.N. Security Council, however, is exploring the possibility of authorizing the deployment of Ethiopian troops into Abyei to help restore order and prevent a resumption of a civil war. Under the proposal, the northern army would withdraw from the Abyei area to make way for thousands of Ethiopian soldiers, who would help monitor a cease-fire along the border.
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council, meanwhile, issued a statement demanding that Sudan withdraw its forces from Abyei and "ensure an immediate halt to all looting, burning and illegal resettlement." The council also voiced "grave concern following the reports about the unusual, sudden influx of thousands of Misseriya into Abyei town and its environs that could force significant changes in the ethnic composition of the area."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
France and Britain will press for the passage of a U.N. Security Council vote on a mild, but legally-binding, resolution condemning Syria for its bloody repression of anti-government protesters, and demanding Damascus show restraint and provide access to U.N. humanitarian aid workers, according to U.N. diplomats.
The decision sets the council's Western powers on possible collision course with China and especially Russia. Moscow has signaled it may be prepared to veto a Security Council resolution on Syria, diplomats say. The standoff is coming to a head as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on demonstrators entered its ninth week with little sign of an end to the violence. The Syrian uprising represents the greatest threat to the Assad dynasty's control over the country since it came to power in a 1963 military coup.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron will make one last effort at a G-8 Summit in Deauville, France, Thursday and Friday, to persuade Russian President Dmitry Medvedev not to veto the resolution, according to council diplomats. Diplomats are confident that China will not veto the resolution if Russia doesn't.
After weeks of behind the scenes lobbying, Britain and France say they are confident that they have secured the minimum nine votes required for passage of the resolution in the 15-nation council. They are hoping to increase that number. But they said they intend to press for a vote later this week even if Russia threatens to block the vote.
On Twitter, Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague wrote today that the "rising death toll in Syria is worrying and unacceptable." He said Britain "is calling for more international pressure on Syrian authorities, including at [the] UN."
France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said recently that the "threat of a Russian veto" looms over the council deliberations on Syria but that prospects for a majority of supporters for council action is improving.
The United States had been initially reluctant to support the European initiative on the grounds that a blocked resolution would strengthen the Syrian government's hand by showing the council is politically divided.
But American diplomats have assured their European counterparts that they will support the push for a resolution. Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon, Germany, Nigeria, and Portugal have also assured the Europeans they will vote in favor of the resolution.
The Security Council's Western powers have already encountered stiff resistance from China, Russia and Lebanon to criticizing Syria in the Security Council. Last month, the three countries helped block a French and British initiative to adopt a non-binding council statement condemning Syria's conduct.
Russia is concerned that once the council weighs in on the Syrian crisis it will be only a matter of time before the council's Western powers begin to demand tougher action, including sanctions and possibly even the use of force. Moscow has already expressed concern that the West exceeded its mandate to protect civilians in Libya by taking sides in the country's civil war. The United States and its coalition allies maintain that they are faithfully implementing their mandate to protection civilians. And none of the Western powers have threatened the use of force against Damascus.
Brazil, India, and South Africa have also voiced concern about a new resolution, though New Dehli has indicated to some colleagues that it would be prepared to support a modest resolution that criticizes Syria's conduct. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, appealed to South Africa to rally behind the resolution.
"South Africa has said behind closed doors in the Security Council that they would not support Security Council action on Syria because they feel NATO abused the mandate the council gave it on libya," said Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative, who is visiting South Africa. "Wwhat we are teling them is do not punish Syrian civialins for what NATO is doing in Libya."
He also challenged the U.S. rationale for not pressing more aggressively for action on Syria. "The argument that a Russian veto would somehow expose the divisions of the Security Council cuts both ways," he said. "You could also argue that the complete silence is emboldening the Syrian regime."
As the Europeans sought to build greater support for the resolution the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a statement today saying that it was "very likely" that a Syrian facility bombed by Israeli war planes in 2007 was "very likely" a nuclear reactor.
U.N. diplomats said the Europeans were unlikely to immediately raise concerns about the development in the Security Council, saying they fear it might complicate ongoing efforts to secure adoption of its resolution condemning Syria for its bloody crackdown.
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The White House today announced it would impose unilateral sanctions against Syria, signaling its desire to ratchet up pressure on President Bashar al Assad to halt his crackdown on protesters.
The U.S. action drew rare praise from foreign policy conservatives, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who said the move "should mark the end of the failed policy of engagement and accommodation with Damascus."
But at the United Nations, the American delegation has been hesitant to press for an equally hard-line approach, fearing an aggressive push to penalize Syria in the U.N. Security Council might provoke a Russian or Chinese veto.
In late April, Chinese, Russian, Lebanese and other diplomats effectively blocked an effort by the Europeans to push through a mild, non-binding, Security Council statement condemning Syria's violent crackdown on mostly unarmed protesters.
The United States is concerned that another failed push for Security Council action on Syria would give comfort to President Assad, exposing the deep international rift over the right approach to restraining Syria.
In the absence of an American push, Britain and France have taken the lead in seeking a tougher approach. In recent days, the two European powers have sounded out other Security Council members about the prospects for the adoption of a resolution that would condemn Syria and urge it to halt further violence.
Britain and France are confident that they can muster the minimum nine votes required to adopt a modest resolution that would condemn Syria, ask it to show restraint, and encourage political reform. Britain and France also believe it may be worth risking a Russian or Chinese veto, and exposing them as defenders of a brutal Middle East regime that is resistant to democratic change sweeping the region. "There is a real risk that the council, by failing to act, is sending the signal that what Assad is doing is within the bounds of international tolerance," said one council diplomat. "We need to change that."
The United Nations maintains that more than 850 people have been killed in Syria in recent months, most of them civilian targets of a bloody government crackdown. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has charged Assad with ignoring a recent call for restraint by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which condemned Syria's conduct
While the U.S. worries that forcing a losing vote may play to Assad's advantage, they are likely to support Britain and France if they decide to move ahead with a vote on a resolution, according to diplomats.
The deadlock over Syria contrasts starkly with the council's response to a Libyan crackdown on protesters in February. In a remarkable show of unity, the 15-nation council voted unanimously on February 26 to impose sanctions on President Moammar Qadaffi's regime, and authorize an investigation by the International Criminal Court prosecutor into allegations that the regime committed crimes against humanity. On Monday, the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, requested arrest warrants for President Qaddafi, his son Saif, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah Senoussi.
But the unity has frayed since the council passed a subsequent resolution authorizing military action to protect civilians by a vote of only 10-0, with five abstentions. Since, then China, India, Russia, and other council members have accused the United States, Britain and France of exceeding the authority granted by the council to protect civilians by taking sides in a civil war.
The effort to squeeze Syria has also been complicated by the role of the council's lone Arab state Lebanon, which lead previous efforts at the United Nations to condemn Libya and to address allegations of government repression in Yemen. But Lebanon is unwilling to back any measures against Syria, which exerts enormous influence over Lebanese affairs. And there is no sign that other Arab governments will challenge Lebanon's approach.
The current dispute over Syria "is the hang over from Libya," one council diplomat told Turtle Bay. "China and Russia feel a bit betrayed because the coalition went further than what was in the resolution. It diminished the possibility of replicating the Libya model in Yemen and Syria," where Russia and China have blocked action.
"There is a negative vibe post-Libya in the council," the diplomat said. "you did this in Libya and now you're going to pay for it. It's a pity. There is this political game of power in the council while people are being hurt on the ground."
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Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, today lodged a complaint against the U.N.'s top humanitarian relief official Valerie Amos, following Amos' highly critical assessment of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories and along its borders.
Amos, a former British politician who serves as the U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, issued a series of highly barbed public statements and tweets criticizing Israel's treatment of Palestinians during a four-day visit to the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
She also took issue with Israel's shooting deaths of about 15 "innocent" Palestinians who crossed the defacto border into Israel Sunday from Syria and from southern Lebanon. Thousands of Palestinians sought to cross the borders to commemorate the 1948 Naqba, or catastrophe, which marks the displacement of Palestinians during the birth of the state of Israel.
"I am extremely concerned at the level of violence today, and at the number of deaths and injuries in the region" Amos said on Sunday. "The situation cannot continue in this way. It is innocent people who are losing their lives."
Israel maintains that the border-crossings were instigated by the Syrian government as a way of distracting attention from its bloody crackdown on nation-wide protesters challenging the government rule. The White House has stated that Israel has the right to defend its border from unauthorized border crossings, and that Syria and Lebanon have an obligation to prevent them.
In a meeting today with Amos, Ayalon challenged her characterization of the victims as innocent. "Those from enemy countries who breach our borders while using violence and calling for Israeli's destruction, cannot be considered innocent, but an immediate and present danger to the citizens of Israel," he said, according to a statement released by the Israel foreign ministry. "Israel has the right and duty, as does any nation, to defend itself and its borders. It is disappointing that the person in charge of humanitarian affairs at the UN requires explanations on why defensible borders are a fundamental right of Israel's citizens."
Ayalon also took issue with Amos agency's characterization of the plight of Palestinians, saying "there is not now, nor has there been, a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories, these reports are inflaming the atmosphere and hurting regional stability."
Amos, meanwhile, faulted what she called restrictive Israel building practices which prevent Palestinians from rebuilding crumbling schools and other vital facilities in Israeli controlled lands. "Palestinians are utterly frustrated by the impact of Israeli policies on their lives. They are evicted from their homes Their homes are regularly demolished," Amos said. "I don't believe the people of Israel have any idea of the way planning policies are used to divide and harass communities and families. They would not like to be subjected to such behavior."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
The Kuwaiti government has informed Western officials that it will mount a bid for the Arab seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, setting the stage for a likely end to Syria's controversial campaign to join the 47-member rights body, U.N. based diplomats told Turtle Bay.
Syria has not yet announced a decision to withdraw from the race, and its U.N. ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, told Turtle Bay Monday afternoon that his government planned to continue its pursuit of the seat. But the U.N.-based diplomat said that Syria has been engaged this week in talks with Kuwait and other Arab countries about the prospect of swapping Syria's rights seat for another U.N.-based post in the future.
In January, the U.N.'s Asian bloc, which includes Arab governments, selected a slate of four candidates, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Syria for four vacancies in the region. And last month, the U.N.'s Arab bloc publicly backed Syria's bid. The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to vote to select the council's 15 new members on May 20.
But Syria's campaign has come under fire from the United States, European governments, and human rights activists in the wake of a bloody government crackdown, involving the use of tanks and live fire, on unarmed protesters. This morning, the New York Times published an editorial telling the members of the Arab and Asian blocs that they should be ashamed of their decision to support Syria.
In recent days, support for Syria in those groups has begun to wane. Last week, two key regional powers, Egypt and India, signaled that it was time for Syria to bow out of the race.
"Syria seems to have finally decided to withdraw from this election," said Peggy Hicks, head of global advocacy for Human Rights Watch. "But while the battle here in New York may be over, the violence in Syria is continuing and Human Rights Watch and other human rights activists will continue to press Syria to follow this action with concrete changes on the ground."
Western diplomats also interpreted the decision of Kuwait, which had previously refused to compete for the seat unless Syria stepped aside, as a sign that the Arab countries had struck a deal and that Syria would abandon its bid.
They hailed the development as a sign that the Human Rights Council, which has long been criticized for accepting rights abusers into its ranks, is showing a new willingness to block the world's worst rights abusers from joining the club.
Iran was forced to scrap its campaign to join the council last year in the face of widespread opposition. And the rights council took the unprecedented decision to suspend the membership of one of its members, Libya, because of concern over its brutal treatment of protesters.
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There are "reasonable grounds" to charge Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's security forces with having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during a bloody, two-and-a-half- month long crackdown on Libyan protesters, according to the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The prosecutor, Argentine lawyer Luis Moreno-Ocampo, claimed in a report to the U.N. Security Council that his investigators have established preliminary but "credible" estimates that at least 500 to 700 civilians have been shot to death by government forces. He said he intends "in the next weeks" to submit his first application for arrest warrants against officials "most responsible for crimes against humanity" in Libya since Feb. 15, 2001. The abuses, he noted, are ongoing.
The prosecutor's office "will select for prosecution those who bear the highest responsibility, including those who ordered, incited, financed, or otherwise planned the commission of alleged crimes," the report states. The report also raises concerns that anti-government mobs or armed opposition forces may have engaged in "the unlawful arrest mistreatment and killings of sub-Saharan Africans perceived to be mercenaries. Reportedly angry mobs of protesters assaulted Sub-Saharan African in Benghazi and other cities and killed dozens of them."
The Security Council voted unanimously on Feb. 26 to authorize the international court to conduct an investigation into alleged excesses by Qaddafi's forces since Feb. 15, when they launched a brutal crackdown on Libyan demonstrators demanding democratic reforms. It is the second time since the court's inception that the 15-nation council has voted to trigger an ICC probe. In March, 2005, the council also backed an investigation into war crimes by the Sudanese government in Darfur. The court has since issued an arrest warrant against Sudan's leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for allegedly committing genocide.
Under the terms of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, Libya should be given the first chance to investigate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the report states that government initiatives, including the establishment of a national commission by Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi, to investigate reports of abuses, have been inadequate.
The report raises the prospect that Colonel Qaddafi and members of his family and inner circle may yet be charged committing war crimes. If so, it would be the second time the court has charged a sitting head of state with such crimes.
"The shooting at peaceful protestors was systematic, following the same modus operandi in multiple locations and executed through Security Forces," the report states. "The persecution appears to be also systematic and implemented in different cities. War crimes are apparently committed as a matter of policy."
The death toll has been hard to determine in Libya because of widely divergent estimates on both sides of the country's conflict. As of March 15, Qaddafi estimated that only 150 to 200 people had died during the conflict, half of them members of the government security forces. The Libyan Interim National Council claims that up to 10,000 have died, and that more than 50,000 have been injured, according to the report.
The prosecutor's report states that it has been difficult to determine the precise number of victims because bodies have been removed from the streets and doctors have been prohibited from documenting "the number of dead and injured in the hospitals after the violent clashes began."
The prosecutor said his investigation will begin with an examination of a brutal February clampdown in Benghazi, where civilian demonstrators protested the arrest of two locals, Fatih Terbil and Farag Sharany, who were demanding justice for victims of the governments' bloody 1996 massacre of inmates at the Abu Salim prison.
"On 17 February, 2001, thousands of demonstrators congregated in the square around the high court of Benghazi, protesting such arrests and calling for political and economic freedom," according to the report. "Security forces entered the square and reportedly fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing numerous demonstrators. This was the beginning of a series of similar incidents in different cities across Libya which appears to demonstrate a consistent pattern of Security Forces firing live ammunition at civilians."
The prosecutor's report also cited allegations that government forces committed war crimes, including through the blocking of humanitarian supplies and through the use of "imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas."
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Last night, the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, hinted that the United Nations, backed by French forces, may have to resume helicopter gunship strikes against the forces of Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo in order to protect his political rival, Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara defeated Gbagbo in Ivory Coast's U.N. certified president election in November, and he has gone on to win wide backing from the U.N. and foreign governments in Africa and beyond.
But Ouattara's standing as Ivory Coast's new leader is already being tarnished amid reports that forces loyal to his cause have engaged in gross human rights abuses during an offensive aimed at driving Gbagbo from power. Last night, Human Rights Watch released a damning report that accuses Ouattara's forces of killing hundreds of civilians, raping more than 20, and burning at least 10 villages during a military offensive last month.
The report also documents post-election atrocities by Gbagbo's loyalists, who have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and murder against members of ethnic groups believed loyal to Ouattara and against U.N. personnel who are protecting the president elect. For instance, the report uncovered evidence that on March 28 pro-Gbagbo forces massacred more than 100 men, women and children in the northern Ivorian village of Bloléquin. The following day, they killed another ten people in the town of Guiglo.
"To understand the tragic events in Côte d'Ivoire, a line cannot be drawn between north and south, or supporters of Gbagbo and Ouattara," Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch's Africa director said in a statement. "Unfortunately, there are those on both sides who have shown little regard for the dignity of human life."
But the reports focus is primarily on violence carried out by Ouattara's forces against members of the pro-Gbagbo ethnic Guéré as they advanced across the country in a month-long offensive, capturing Gbagbo-controlled towns of Toulepleu, Doké, Bloléquin, Duékoué, and Guiglo in western Ivory Coast.
"People interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how, in village after village, pro-Ouattara forces, now called the Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire, FRCI), summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush," according to a report released by Human Rights Watch. "The fighters often targeted people by ethnicity, and the attacks disproportionally affected those too old or feeble to flee."
Outtara's army is comprised of a lose coalition of former Ivorian rebels from the north and former Ivorian soldiers and police that defected from Gbagbo's security forces. The former rebels, known as the Forces Nouvelles, as well as Gbagbo's forces had committed serious atrocities during the countries previous civil war in 2002. The U.N., human rights groups and foreign governments have urged both sides to prevent such abuses in the current round of fighting. So far, the call hasn't been heeded.
"The month-long onslaught of abuses against Guéré civilians in the far west, which began in late February, culminated in the massacre of hundreds in the town of Duékoué on March 29," according to the Human Rights Watch report. "After securing the town that morning, fighters from the Republican Forces - accompanied by two pro-Ouattara militia groups - proceeded to the Gbagbo-stronghold neighborhood of Carrefour. Eight women told Human Rights Watch that pro-Ouattara forces dragged men, young and old, out of their homes and executed them with machetes and guns in the street, sometimes with multiple rounds of bullets. While committing the often gruesome killings, some attackers threatened "to kill the Guéré until the last one" because of their support for Gbagbo."
Ouattara's government has previously denied allegations that its troops have engaged in atrocities, and has offered to cooperate with an independent probe into allegations of atrocities at Duékoué. But Ouattara's U.N. envoy, Youssoufou Bamba, declined to respond to the specific allegations in the report, telling Turtle Bay he had only received a copy of it this morning and hadn't had time to form an official response.
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Lebanon, Britain and France on Tuesday introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would grant sweeping authority to states to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and use "all necessary measures," including military force, to protect civilians and grant access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, according to a confidential draft of the resolution obtained by Turtle Bay.
The draft would require states to notify U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before taking action to protection civilians. The initiative, which emphasizes the role of the Arab League in the effort, received a cool reception from several council members, including China, Russia, India, and Germany, which argued that they need to hear far more about the details of the plan before proceeding to a vote.
The draft resolution would also reinforce an arms embargo on Libya and tighten a travel ban and financial sanctions recently imposed on Muammar al-Qaddafi, his relatives, and other close associates. It also calls for the establishment of a panel of up to eight experts to monitor enforcement of the sanctions.
Lebanon's U.N. ambassador, Nawaf Salam, said tonight that his government, in cooperation with Libya's renegade U.N. mission, wrote the provisions in the draft establishing the no-fly zone, while Britain and France took the lead in drafting the provisions that call for "strengthening and widening of sanctions [recently] imposed on Libya." The sanctions provisions are considered far less controversial than the no-fly zone, and have secured broader support in the council.
Here are the resolution's key provisions.
*Acting Under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,
*Demands an immediate end to attacks on the civilian population and reiterates its call for steps to fulfil the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
*Demands that the Qaddafi regime comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance.
*Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahariya in order to help protect civilians. [There is an exemption for humanitarian flights or flights used to evacuate foreign nationals.]
*Authorizes Member States to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights … and to prevent any use of aircraft for aerial attacks against the civilian population, and requests the States concerned in cooperation with the League of Arab States to coordinate closely with the Secretary General on the measures they are taking to implement this ban.
*Calls upon all Member States and regional organizations to provide assistance, including any necessary over-flight approvals.
*Authorizes members of the League of Arab States and other States which have notified the secretary general, who are acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting with the cooperation with the Secretary General, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian objects in the Libyan Arab Jamahariya, and to make available humanitarian and related assistance.
*Decides that all States shall deny permission to any Libyan commercial aircraft, including Libyan Air, to take off from, land in or land in their territory unless the particular flight has been approved in advance by [a U.N. Security Council] committee.
*Affirms that assets frozen pursuant to resolution 1970(2011) and this resolution must be made available to and for the benefit of the Libyan people.
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The popular overthrow of Tunisia’s former leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has served as an inspiration for protesters in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, and other Arab countries. But the Tunisian regime also emerged this week as a symbol of the excesses of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. A U.N. report revealed that the Tunisian government was practitioner of the poulet rôti (or rotisserie), the notorious torture technique which involves tying a detainee's wrists together under the knees and passing a pole between the arms and thighs.
Martin Scheinin, the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, released a damning report this week on Tunisia’s use of secret detention centers in order to coerce confessions through torture and mistreatment. The 20-page report -- which is based on a field visit to Tunisia in January 2010 -- provides a chilling, if unsurprising, look at the repressive practices that prevail in the Middle East and played no small part in stoking Tunisia’s public uprising. It also provides further evidence of how Tunisia, like other authoritarian governments in the region, has used the war on terror to pass a set of vague and sweeping anti-terrorism laws that often target nonviolent dissidents and opposition figures.
"[I]t appears that the scope of application of the terrorism provisions in the law has grown too wide and should be reduced," the report states. "Any anti-terrorism law that is not properly confined to the countering of terrorism within the limits of human rights law is problematic … because it may unjustifiably restrict the enjoyment of human rights pertaining to the exercise of peaceful activities, including dissent and political opposition through legitimate associations."
The report documents alleged crimes committed before the country’s ruler was deposed following several weeks of public demonstrations. It provides another awkward example of a trusted American ally in the war on terror using the global campaign against extremists to justify bad behavior and consolidate power at home. Indeed, the same security apparatus that collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency, which transported suspected terrorists through Tunis, was also responsible for using intimidation and violence to stifle domestic challenges to Ben Ali's rule, according to the report.
"Human rights abuses were at the heart of the problems faced by the people of Tunisia," Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Wednesday. She announced that she has ordered a team of human rights investigators to begin an investigation today into Tunisia's legacy of human rights. "Therefore, human rights must be at the forefront of the solutions to those problems."
Scheinin's report claims that Tunisian authorities routinely deny detainees basic due-process rights, interrogate suspect in secret detention centers, routinely postdate arrest records to circumvent rules requiring detainees be presented before a judge in a timely fashion. It also noted that custody records during the month of his visit showed that authorities at one police detention center detained at least one person each day, "support[ing] the conclusion that counter-terrorism legislation does not only apply to a small group of very dangerous individuals."
The team was allowed to visit the Bouchoucha police detention facility and the Mornaguia Prison, where they interviewed several prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses. But Scheinin was not permitted to visit the interrogation facility at the Sub-directorate for Criminal Affairs of the Police Judiciare, where the "overwhelming majority of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment [were] received by the Special Rapporteur." Here's Scheinin's account of abuse in Tunisian detention.
"The evidence brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur indicated that suspected terrorists are routinely held in secret in a building of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis," the report claimed. "According to consistent allegations, suspects are regularly subjected to severe beatings on different parts of the body, including genitals, with fists, cables and batons, kicking, slapping, often combined with stripping of their clothes and suspensions (including in the so-called poulet rôti ("roast chicken") position), even in ordinary offices of the [Interior] Ministry. Some reports also described electroshocks and mock-drowning taking place in one particular room in the basement, especially in cases, where suspects resisted to making confessions. Other methods used included extended periods of sleep deprivation, burning with cigarettes, threats with rape, threats to family members and anal rape.… The main purpose of the torture was to extract confessions, and sometimes testimonies about third persons. It normally stopped with the signing of papers that most suspects had not been allowed to read."
Tunisia has been spared some of the worst terrorist violence that has hit other Arab countries; it was the site of two major terrorist attacks in April 2002 and December 2006, which killed a total of 35 people, including foreigners. In 1992, Tunisia tried 265 alleged members of the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) movement following a couple of violent incidents that were blamed on the group. Human rights organizations, according to the report, "described the 1992 trials as unfair." The Tunisian rebel group, which is allegedly linked to al Qaeda and listed on the U.N. terrorist black list, is "suspected of plotting, but not carrying out, attacks on the embassies of Algeria, Tunisia and the United States of America in Rome in December 2001."
The report says that a number of countries, including Libya, Italy, Pakistan, and Syria, have forcibly returned Tunisian terrorism suspects to Tunisia despite the prospects that they will face torture. "Several of the returnees reported having been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during that period, but none of their allegations are known to have been investigated by the Tunisian authorities." Scheinin said he has also encountered evidence that Tunisian authorities held an Algerian national for 75 days after he was sent to Tunisia by the Central Intelligence Agency. The detainee was eventually repatriated to Algeria.
Since 2003, Tunisia imposed sweeping anti-terrorism laws that have criminalized many nonviolent activities, but provided no clear definition of what constitutes a terrorist act. For instance, it is a crime -- even for medical personnel, clergy, and defense lawyers -- to fail to immediately notify authorities "of any acts, information or instructions which may have emerged concerning a terrorist offence." Individuals can also face up to 12 years in prison for "to an organization or entity, whichever their form and the number of its members, which has, even if coincidentally or incidentally, used terrorism as a means of action in the realization for its objectives." The measure, according to Scheinin, "does not include any requirement that the person must be aware of the terrorist nature of the group."
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Sri Lanka has cut off direct talks with a U.N. panel set up in June to promote accountability for war crimes during the final stages of the country's bloody 2009 offensive against Tamil separatists, U.N. officials told Turtle Bay.
The panel had been planning a trip to Colombo to question senior officials responsible for addressing massive rights violations during the conflict, but that visit is now unlikely.
Sri Lanka's deputy U.N. ambassador, Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, who commanded troops during the war, wrote to the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this month to say that going forward his government would only hold talks with Ban's advisors, not with the panel investigating war crimes. U.N. officials say they fear Sri Lanka's action, which comes one month after Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador, Palitha Kohona, invited the panel to Colombo, may be calculated to run down the clock on talks on a visit until the panel's mandate expires at the end of February.
The dispute centers on the terms under which the visit would take place. Sri Lanka has agreed to a visit by the U.N. panel on the condition that its activities be limited to testifying before the Sri Lanka Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year to address the conflict and promote reconciliation between the country's ruling Sinhalese and minority Tamils. The panel has demanded broader freedom to talk to a range of Sri Lankan officials.
President Rajapaksa agreed to invite the panel to Sri Lanka during a meeting with Ban in New York along the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly debate last September, Sri Lanka's U.N. envoy, Palitha Kohona, told Turtle Bay. "The understanding at that point was the panel will come to Sri Lanka and make representations to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission," he said. Kohona claimed the panel has sought to unilaterally "expand the scope of that understanding." U.N. officials have privately challenged Kohona's account of Ban's agreement with Rajapaksa, saying Ban did not agree to limiting the scope of the panel's activities in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan army mounted a brutal military offensive in 2009 against the country's rebel Tamil Tigers, decisively defeating the 33-year-old separatist insurgency that pioneered the use of suicide bombers and assassinated a Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, in 1993 and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
In their last stand, the separatist Tamil Tigers embedded themselves in a displaced community of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians, forcing them to serve as human shields. The Sri Lankan military, meanwhile, fired indiscriminately into crowds of civilians, killing as many as 30,000.
Human rights groups fear that Sri Lanka's successful, though highly brutal, military campaign will become a model for other governments seeking to crush insurgencies. They have pressed Ban to ensure that Sri Lankan war criminals are held accountable.
Ban exacted a pledge from Rajapaksa in May 2009 to ensure that war criminals on both sides of the conflict be held accountable. The government has since set up the Lessons Learnt Commission to promote reconciliation between the Tamils and Sinhalese, but the commission has been criticized by human rights groups and foreign dignitaries as inadequate.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, Ban established a three-member panel in June to advise him on how to ensure rights violators are held accountable for possible war crimes. In a statement, Ban said the panel hoped to cooperate with Sri Lankan officials in Sri Lanka.
The panel is chaired by Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner of the United States. It has a mandate to examine "the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka." It is also supposed to advise Sri Lanka on ensuring Sri Lankan war criminals are held accountable.
Sri Lanka initially accused Ban of exceeding his authority and refused to provide the panel members with visas to enter the country. Sri Lankan authorities are concerned that the panel, which will produce a report with recommendations, may call for the establishment of a commission of inquiry, a frequent first step before an international prosecution.
In July, Sri Lanka's minister for housing and construction, Wimal Weerawansa, led a group of pro-government protesters that ringed the U.N.'s Colombo headquarters, harassing U.N. employees, preventing staffers from entering and exiting the U.N. compound, and burning U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon in effigy. Sri Lanka officials essentially ignored the panel's repeated requests for visas to travel to Colombo.
But in December, Sri Lanka's U.N. ambassador, Palitha Kohona, invited the panel to lunch and offered an invitation to visit Colombo. A subsequent letter made it clear that the panel's visit would be restricted to sharing their views on accountability before the Lessons Learned Commission: They would not be permitted to question the commission or conduct interviews with key Sri Lankan officials, including the attorney general, responsible for pursuing justice in the case.
"The Sri Lankan mission had initially indicated they would be amenable to the panel meeting with it to make whatever representations it may wish to make, but it seems now that such a visit has still not been decided," said a senior U.N. official. "I am not sure if this is a simple matter of the Sri Lankan side prevaricating. The panel is nevertheless open and keen on any appropriate interaction with the LLC."
"The Sri Lankans have sought to keep their interaction through the secretariat, specifically the EOSG [the executive office of the secretary general]," the official said. "We have, however, been asking them and the panel to deal with each other directly and shall continue to do so."
(H/T to Inner City Press, which referred to Sri Lankan reversal in this Jan. 18 post)
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Haiti: U.N. Cholera Probe
The United Nations will establish an "independent" panel to try to determine the source of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, Bloomberg reported. The U.N. has resisted such a probe, arguing that it is more important to focuses resources on preventing the spread of cholera, which has already killed more than 2,000 people and hospitalized more than 44,000. But the organization has faced criticism that it is seeking to cover up possible links to a Nepalese battalion of U.N. peacekeepers.
The United States, France and African governments have warned Ivory Coast's long time ruler, Laurent Gbagbo, that he must step down from power within days or face stiff sanctions, Reuters reported. Western and African governments believe that opposition leader Alassane Ouattara won the country's recent election. The ultimatum comes as government and rebel forces clashed today.
President Barack Obama on Thursday reversed course and endorsed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which recognizes the cultural and property rights of native Americans and other indigenous communities, the Associated Press reported. The U.S. voted against the declaration when the U.N. General Assembly adopted it in 2007, arguing that it was incompatible with U.S. laws.
The U.N. Security Council met to register their concern about the prospects for violence in the upcoming independence referendum in South Sudan, according to the Voice of America, while the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, said that the U.N. peacekeeping force would not be enough to protect civilians in the event of a resumption of civil war.
The White House today announced that Brooke Anderson, the U.N.-based U.S. ambassador for special political affairs, will serve as new chief of staff for the national security council.
Anderson previously worked as the chief of staff for Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, before being promoted to the U.N. ambassadorial post, which bears responsibility for Security Council affairs, U.N. peacekeeping and non-proliferation matters.
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The United Nations confirmed today that Sudanese government forces bombed targets in southern Sudan, providing the first official confirmation of such air attacks in the run up to the south’s independence referendum, Reuters reported.
The European Union decided to impose sanctions on Ivory Coast’s long-time leader Laurent Gbagbo in an effort to press him to yield power after a disputed election, the Voice of America reports. The U.N. and key African and European powers have recognized opposition leader Alassane Outtara as the country’s victor in the election. Forces loyal to the two leaders reportedly clashed today.
The U.N.’s special rapporteur for Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, called today for the release of at least 2,200 prisoners of conscience, saying that many are suffering serious health problems and at least one Buddhist monk died last month in detention.
Oil for Food Fallout
A Scotland-based engineering company, Weir Group, pleaded guilty to charges of violating the terms of the $64 billion U.N.-oil-for food program, which allowed companies to sell goods to Iraq under strict U.N. monitoring, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company agreed to pay $22 million in fines, according to the Journal.
South East Asia
Poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia increased by 22 percent this year, according to the finding of the UN Vienna-based drug agency, AFP reported.
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WikiLeaks has released its first confidential cable written by diplomats from the U.S. mission to the United Nations. While the December 2009 cable -- which discusses U.S. efforts on a range of issues before the U.N. General Assembly -- provides no major news revelations, it contains some valuable insights into the way America conducts its business here.
The confidential U.S. diplomatic communication -- which was approved by U.S. ambassador Susan E. Rice -- shows how reliant the U.S. is on its allies, particularly in Europe, to take the lead on politically sensitive issues like the promotion of human rights, where the U.S. often faces criticism for its military and detention policies. The cable credits the European Union with "collaborating pragmatically" with the Obama administration on its top priorities, including efforts to require emerging economic powers to pay a larger share of the U.N.'s administrative and peacekeeping costs, and to adopt U.N. resolutions criticizing the human rights record of Burma, Iran, and North Korea.
The EU, led by Sweden, also helped Washington fend off efforts by an influential alliance of developing countries -- known as the Group of 77 -- to adopt resolutions that would increase American financial burdens, including a draft resolution affirming a right to economic development.
The EU "responded with alacrity to new U.S. flexibility, particularly on arms control and economic/social issues," according to the cable. "The Swedish ambassador himself repeatedly engaged with G-77 colleagues to sway votes."
The cable, however, also singled out areas where key European powers refused to budge, including its annual support for a General Assembly resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba: "Spain was a particularly tenacious critic of our Cuba policy." It also expressed frustration with the failure of the EU, despite strong support from Britain, France, and the Netherlands, to significantly weaken a raft of nine pro-Palestinian resolutions that criticize Israel each year. "The EU's annual negotiation of these nine drafts... improved marginally.... The vote outcomes remained lopsided."
On the whole, this U.N. cable was certainly more businesslike than many of the most dramatic reports flowing out of U.S. embassies around the world. But I anticipate that future releases may provide sharper insights into many of the U.N.'s more colorful personalities. Perhaps they will even show us what Rice really thinks about U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
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Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, pressed China to release this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, expressing hope that China will "come to recognize" the positive contribution the pro-democracy activist can make on Chinese society.
In a rare, wide-ranging press conference in Geneva, Pillay presented the U.N.'s strongest public criticism of China's imprisonment of Liu, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence for drafting the pro-democracy Charter 08 manifesto. Pillay also scolded China for placing Liu's wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest "that in my view is in contravention of Chinese national law."
The remarks by the South African rights advocate bore a stark contrast to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's highly circumspect comments on Liu's selection as the 2010 Nobel laureate. To date, Ban has never publicly called for his release, spoken out against the house arrest of his wife, or even officially congratulated him on the prize. Ban did not raise the matter in private talks with Chinese leader Hu Jintao, reserving discussion of the politically delicate matter for talks with lower-level Chinese officials.
Chinese offficials have responded to the Nobel Committee's decision to honor Liu, whom they consider a criminal, by lobbying foreign governments not to attend this week's award ceremony. "China's foreign ministry has boasted that the peace prize has been discredited because a large number of countries agree with China and will boycott the ceremony," wrote Keith Richburg of the Washington Post. "So far, China has listed 18 other countries not attending, including fellow communist regimes Cuba and Vietnam; Arab monarchies and authoritarian regimes including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia; and China's allies Venezuela, Pakistan, Sudan, and neighboring Russia and Kazakhstan. Iran, Colombia and Ukraine also said their ambassadors will not attend."
Beijing has also mounted a crackdown on Chinese activists and critics inside China. Pillay said that she was "dismayed" by the recent restrictions China has placed on a "widening circle" of activists and critics of the government. "In recent weeks at least twenty activists have been arrested or detained and more than 120 other cases of house arrest, travel restrictions, forced relocations and other acts of intimidation," she said. Pillay defended her decision not to attend the Nobel award ceremony, saying that she never received a formal invitation to the event from the Nobel Peace Prize organization.
Pillay came under fire from Yang Jianli, a U.S.-based Chinese dissident and friend of Liu Xiaobo, who said that the rights leader had rejected an invitation to attend the meeting. At the time, Pillay's spokesman defended her decision not to go on the grounds that she had a previous obligation to host a Human Rights Day event in Geneva on the same day.
Pillay also weighed in on the mounting WikiLeaks controversy, decrying the efforts of politicians and other government officials to "pressure" banks, Internet providers, and credit card companies to cut off Wikileaks, saying such measures ran afoul of free-speech protections. "I am concerned about reports of pressure exerted on private companies including banks, credit card companies and Internet service providers to close down credit lines for donations to Wikileaks, as well as to stop hosting the website," she said.
"Taken as a whole [such measures] could be interpreted as an attempt to censor the publication of information thus potentially violating WikiLeaks right to freedom of expression. If WikiLeaks has committed any recognizable illegal act then this should be handled through the legal system and not through pressure and intimidation."
The remarks follow a high-level campaign, first initiated by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, to pressure companies, universities, and other institutions to prevent Wikileaks from disseminating confidential cables. A group of anonymous computer "hacktivists" have retaliated by mounting cyber attacks on the websites of institutions that they believe have been hostile to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
"This is truly what media would call a cyber war; it's just astonishing," Pillay said. "The WikiLeaks case raises complex human rights questions about balancing freedom of information, the right of people to know, and the need to protect national security or public order. This balancing act is a difficult one... So who is best to judge or strike at the balance, but courts of law?"
Pillay said the WikiLeaks documents have provided troubling new evidence that the Obama administration "knew about the widespread use of torture by Iraqi forces and yet proceeded with the transfer of thousands" of Iraqi detainees from U.S. custody to Iraqi custody between 2009 and 2010. "This could potentially constitute a serious breach of human rights law." She said she supported the efforts of U.N. human rights researchers who are seeking clarification from the U.S. and Iraqi authorities on the use of torture. She urged all to investigate the reports "and bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses."
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Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has turned down an invitation to attend the Dec. 10 event at which Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese pro-democracy advocate, will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Pillay declined the invitation because she is already hosting a human rights day event in Geneva, her spokesman told Turtle Bay. She has no intention of sending a more junior official to represent the organization in her place, the spokesman, Rupert Colville, said.
The decision comes as the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon is already facing sharp criticism from human rights groups for failing to press China to release Liu or his wife Liu Xia, who was placed under house arrest after her husband was chosen as the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Ban did not congratulate Liu, a leader during the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests, and one of the drafters of Charter 08, a document signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals and rights advocates that calls for political reform and an improvement in the country's human rights policies.
In a statement released to the press, Yang Jianli, a Chinese dissident who represents Liu before the Nobel committee, accused the U.N. officials of neglecting their duties. "Ms. Pillay's decision is a clear and unequivocal abdication of her responsibilities as high commissioner, which I believe resulted from direct pressure from the Chinese government," Yang said. "It is especially concerning because it occurs in the wake of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's refusal to raise Dr. Liu's case when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao shortly Dr. Liu was announced as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate."
China has mounted an aggressive campaign to dissuade foreign dignitaries to attend the December 10 event, warning that it could harm their countries relations with China. Pillay's spokesman, Colville, said that China played no role in her decision to turn down the invitation. He said that she had already had plans to host a major Geneva meeting with five human rights defenders, including activists from Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
"This is not something that she could simply drop. We are trying to put a spotlight on those human rights defenders nobody has heard of," Colville told Turtle Bay. "We have spent months arranging this major event. It's being attended by human rights defenders, diplomats and NGOs, coming from all around the world."
Pillay's supporters said that she had sharply criticized China's treatment of Liu's well before he emerged as a Nobel laureate. In December, 2009, after a Chinese court sentence Liu to 11 years in prison on charges of "suspicion of incitement to subvert state power," Pillay took Beijing to task.
"The conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Liu
Xiaobo mark a further severe restriction on the scope of freedom of expression
in China," Pillay said at the time. "Today's verdict is a very unfortunate
development that casts an ominous shadow over China's recent commitments to
protect and promote human rights."
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In an unprecedented meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday morning, the human rights record of the United States faced attack from political rivals, including Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. Some delegations instructed staff to wait outside the building overnight in chilly weather so they could be the first in line to criticize Washington; Cuba earned the right to go first.
U.S. military and detention policies came under particular scrutiny. "The United States of America, since its very origin, has used force indiscriminately as the central pillar of its policy of conquest and expansionism, causing death and destruction," said Nicaragua's envoy Carlos Robelo Raffone.
It is the first time the United States has submitted its rights record to examination by the Geneva-based rights council. Washington had not previously complied with the procedure that requires all states to allow their counterparts to grade their conduct.
At the outset of Friday morning's meeting, a delegation of top American officials, led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Esther Brimmer, provided foreign diplomats a detailed account of American human rights shortcomings and current efforts to redress them. The response was not entirely hostile: The U.S. government also received praise from friendly countries for its willingness to accept constructive criticism.
The Obama administration has organized intensive efforts -- including several town hall meetings with Muslims, Native Americans, African Americans and other minority groups -- to assess the extent of domestic rights violations. In August, it presented the U.N. rights council with a 22-page report defending ongoing U.S. counter-terror efforts and documenting US abuses, including practices by federal and local police, as well as corrections and immigration officials. Today's meeting provided the first opportunity for states to comment on the report.
"We acknowledge imperfections and injustices to discuss and debate them, and to work through democratic means to remedy them," said Michael Posner, the U.S. assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. "Our progress has not been linear, but in the story of the United States, the arc of history has bent toward justice...As our report acknowledges, though we are proud of our achievements, we are not satisfied with the status quo."
U.S. officials also conceded that the United States has had a long legacy of rights abuses. They noted that some of the country's highest officials, which include a Jewish American, an African American and an Asian American, could not have risen to top levels in the U.S. government in the past. "For the United States, our early years witnessed profound gaps between our ideals and practice, including slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, and limited franchise," Brimmer said.
Republican administrations have previously subjected their policies on immigration, detention treatment, and a host of other human rights issues to some form of scrutiny by the United Nations and other international bodies. But the Bush Administration had refused to join the Human Rights Council, saying its membership would lend legitimacy to a body that included many governments with horrible rights records. President Obama reversed course, arguing that it would be better to improve and reform the U.N.'s principal rights body from within, rather than lecture it from the outside.
Bush's former U.N. envoy, John Bolton, who was a vocal opponent of the U.S. joining the council, told Turtle Bay today's action simply underscored the Obama administration's "naivete" toward international diplomacy. "For the Obama administration, this is an exercise in self flagellation, which they seem to enjoy," Bolton said. "But it doesn't prompt equivalent candor from the real rights abusers."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American congressman from Florida who is likely to become the next chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed with Bolton's assessment. In a statement issues this afternoon, she said, "So long as the inmates are allowed to run the asylum, the Human Rights Council will continue to stand in the way of justice, not promote it. The U.S. should walk out of this rogues' gallery and seek to build alternative forums that will actually focus on abuses and deny membership to abusers."
The United States' most vociferous critics -- Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea and Venezuela -- opened the session with a series of highly critical accounts of U.S. policies from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay. They also characterized the U.S. embargo on Cuba as an act of genocide. In an effort to pack in as many attacks as possible in the two minutes allocated to each country, the delegates outlined a litany of alleged U.S. crimes at a speed that was barely intelligible. (See the presentations of Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran).
"We would like to forget the past," said Raffone, Nicaragua's envoy, "but unfortunately the United States of America, which pretends to be the guardian of human rights in the world, questioning other countries, has been and continues to be the one which most systematically violates human rights."
The tone of the rest of the event was more restrained. China
and Russia, two major powers with poor rights records but important relations
with the United States, acknowledged U.S. advances in improving its rights
records, citing its efforts to expand health care. But China -- which has
brutally repressed its own ethnic minorities -- criticized U.S. law enforcement
for using "excessive force against racial minorities." The vast majority of
U.N. members urged the United States to institute a moratorium on the death
penalty with the ultimate goal of abolishing the practice, and urged the United
States to ratify a series of international treaties aimed at protecting the
rights of women and children.
Germany's envoy scolded the most vocal critics of the United States. "We have noted with interest that some of states which are on the first places of today's speakers list had spared no effort to be the first to speak on the U.S.," said Germany's delegate Konrad Scharinger. "We would hope that those states will show the same level of commitment when it comes to improving their human rights record at home."
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As Ban Ki-moon finalized his preparations for his visit this week to Beijing, one of his top advisors, Sha Zukang, traveled to China to present an award to a retired Chinese general who had authority over troops that fired on unarmed civilians during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Sha, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, presented the World Harmony Award -- a glass plaque cut in the shape of a dove -- to former Chinese Defense Minister, Gen. Chi Haotian, in honor of his unspecified contributions to world peace, according to a report in Chinese state media. The World Harmony Foundation, a private charity headed by a Chinese businessman named Frank Liu, established the award.
It was unclear whether Sha appearance at the award ceremony was a gesture aimed at showing understanding for China's troubled human rights legacy. China has faced more intense scrutiny of its human rights record since Liu Xiobao, a jailed pro-democracy advocate who participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But Ban responded to the Nobel announcement by issuing a statement that implicitly questioned the wisdom of the Nobel committee's selection for the prize, and he has been reluctant to publicly raise concerns about the house detention of Liu's wife. In a meeting Monday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Ban didn't even mention human rights.
Some officials said that Sha, a fervent Chinese nationalist, may have been engaging in a bit of pro-Chinese freelancing, or simply doing a personal favor for a wealthy businessman who has provided financial support to U.N. causes. Sha's office declined to comment, referring calls to the organizers of the award ceremony, The World Harmony Foundation, which did not respond to requests for comment. Officials in Ban's office said they were unaware of Sha's participation in the event. "This is the first we've heard of this," Martin Nesirky, the chief spokesman told Turtle Bay. "I don't have further comment for now."
U.N. officials said there is no specific rule prohibiting U.N. staff from presenting an award on behalf of a private charity. Staff rules, however, require employees "uphold and respect the principles set out in the Charter, including faith in fundamental human rights." They prohibit U.N. employees from accepting instructions from any government or from any other source external to the organization." The rules also require staff "avoid any action and, in particular, any kind of public pronouncement that may adversely reflect on their status, or on the integrity, independence and impartiality that are required by that status."
Still, the award ceremony amounted to another awkward incident for Sha, who has struggled to make the adjustment to life as an international civil servant. It also reflects poorly on Ban. Last month, Sha garnered international notoriety after criticizing the U.N. secretary general under the influence of alcohol at a U.N. retreat. The story was first reported by Turtle Bay.
Gen. Chi, a recipient of China's People's Hero award, served as the Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army during the Tiananmen crackdown, which led to the killing of as many as 3,000 civilians. Chi has publicly defended the military operation, but has denied giving the order to open fire on unarmed protesters.
"As PLA chief of staff he was present at a series of key meetings on the crackdown but he isn't recorded as saying anything," Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of Chinese politics at Columbia University. "He evidently was one of the key officers implementing the crackdown orders but I can't distinguish from these materials what specific role he played within that small group."
"I have no idea who the World Harmony Foundation is, but I suppose they represent the deft hand of the Propaganda Department in extending China's soft power," Nathan said. "I suppose this is a response to the Nobel Peace Prize."
The World Harmony Foundation was established in 2004 to "promote the ideals and principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration," according to a statement on the group's web site. It is "dedicated to building Cultures of Peace and Sustainable Environments for all people."
Since 2005, the group has periodically organized ceremonies to ring the Harmony Bell for Peace, which was fashioned out of ammunition donated by the Chinese government and scrap metal collected by Chinese school children. It is trying to raise funding to build more bells.
Top U.N. officials, including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Deputy U.N. Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro, have rung the Harmony Bell of Peace in ceremonies. In 2008, the group claimed that its founder Frank Liu was selected by an aide to Sha, Guido Bertucci, selected by a top aide to be a spokesperson for the U.N. Global Forum, a unit that promotes better public administration. There is no reference to Liu at the forum's website.
The organization has contributed money to previous U.N. causes, including a commitment to fund a 2009 U.N. concert organized by the U.N.'s public affairs and peacekeeping departments and a private group, the CultureProject. In a July 2009 letter to Liu, published by Inner City Press, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Alain Le Roy, thanked Liu.
"Your support is of enormous importance to us," Le Roy wrote. "We are pleased to invite you to our Departmental Conference Room, where you will be given a complete situational briefing on the activities carried out by our peacekeeping missions around the globe. In addition, we would be pleased to offer you a tour of the Department's situation center where our staff monitors developments on the ground 24 hours a days, seven days a week."
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon waded cautiously into the Nobel Peace Prize controversy, offering only indirect praise of China's jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo's achievement while crediting the Chinese govenrment with steadily improving its human rights record.
Ban's public statement contrasted sharply from Western leaders like President Barack Obama, who praised Liu "as an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means" and called for his release. Ban's more diplomatic approach to Beijing reflected the risks that confront the U.N. chief, who will need China's support if he hopes to win a second term as secretary general in 2011.
In a statement made on his behalf by his spokesman, Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, said "the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo of China is a recognition of the growing international consensus for improving human rights practices and culture around the world."
Ban noted the importance of human rights in the U.N.'s mission and then went on to highlight China's recent achievements, including advances in human rights. "Over the past years, China has achieved remarkable economic advances, lifted millions out of poverty, broadened political participation and steadily joined the international mainstream in its adherence to recognized human rights instruments and practices," according to his statement.
Ban concluded by expressing his "sincere hope that any differences on this decision will not detract from advancement of the human rights agenda globally or the high prestige and inspirational power of the Award." But there was no appeal to China to order Liu's release.
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The International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has sharply criticized nations, diplomats, and political leaders that have lent legitimacy to suspected war criminals like Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. In March, he derided international monitors who participated in a U.N.-backed vote that led to Bashir's reelection. "It's like monitoring a Hitler election," he said at the time.
But the Argentine prosecutor will send his deputy, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia, to Kigali to attend Monday's inauguration of Rwanda leader Paul Kagame, whose army has been accused in a recently leaked U.N. report of committing massive war crimes and possibly genocide in eastern Congo in the 1990s.
Moreno-Ocampo authorized the visit in the hopes of using it to press African leaders to support the court's efforts to hold Bashir and other alleged criminals accountable. "We will meet some African heads of state in Kigali and discuss how to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur," Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement to Turtle Bay. "There is no solution in Darfur without the involvement of African leaders."
But the move has drawn criticism from some of the court's most passionate defenders, who say that Bensouda's appearance sends the wrong signal to Congolese victims of alleged Rwandan crimes and to Darfuri civilians who will face dire conditions if Rwanda carries through on its threat to withdraw 3,500 U.N. peacekeepers from Darfur to protest the U.N. report.
"It's a bad decision," Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch, one of the court's leading defenders, told Turtle Bay. "This is not about guilt or innocence, which only a court could decide. It's about association and perception."
Bill Pace, a lawyer who oversees the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, an association of more than 2.500 pro-ICC NGOs, said "it's fine" for Fatou to attend the inauguration if she uses her visit to press Rwanda -- which is not a member of the court -- to support the ICC.
Pace said that while he hoped perpetrators of war crimes in Congo would be held accountable, the ICC has no jurisdiction over crimes, like the alleged ones in Congo and Rwanda, committed before the court was established.
The ICC has been facing intense opposition from African leaders, who have complained that the tribunal has focused primarily on African crimes, carrying out investigations in Congo, Sudan, Uganda, and Central African Republic and now preparing a new probe into Kenyan violations.
In July, an African Union summit in Kampala, Uganda, decided that "African Union member states shall not cooperate with the ICC in the arrest and surrender of the president of Sudan." It also rejected a request by Moreno-Ocampo to set up a liaison office with the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to help improve cooperation and understanding of the court's mandate.
Moreno-Ocampo maintains that the allegations that he is singling out Africa are unfair, noting that most of his African investigations have been launched at the request of the governments where the crimes occurred. The Sudan probe, however, was authorized by the U.N. Security Council. He had hoped to use the Kagame inauguration, which will draw heads of state from throughout Africa, to restate his case for supporting the court.
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Last week, Arizona's Republican governor Janice Brewer accused the Obama administration of subjecting U.S. immigration law to U.N. review, saying it was an example of "internationalism run amok and unconstitutional."
But Obama is hardly the first American president to consult the United Nations. In fact, Republican administrations have been subjecting policies on immigration, detention treatment, and a host of other human rights issues to some form of scrutiny by the U.N. and other international bodies for years.
Brewer was protesting the Obama administration's inclusion of a provision highlighting the Department of Justice's efforts to challenge a controversial Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, which expands police powers to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal alien.
For three years, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has toiled in obscurity to secure the approval of an obscure U.N. committee that decides who gets to participate in public U.N. meetings and debates.
Over the last week, the group's struggle to gain "consultative status" at the United Nations -- basically a grounds pass and access to open U.N. meetings -- attracted rare attention from Capitol Hill and the White House. It also became a stark symbol of the shrinking influence of American social conservatives at the United Nations.
On Monday, the U.N. Economic and Social Council approved the group's application, essentially overruling a smaller NGO committee that had prevented action on the gay rights group's application for more than 3 years, making it the first American gay and lesbian group to lobby at the United Nations. The vote -- which rights activists feared would be close -- turned out to be a landslide: 23 to 13, with eight abstentions and five government no-shows.
"I welcome this important step forward for human rights, as the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC) will take its rightful seat at the table of the United Nations," U.S. President Barack Obama said after the vote. "The United Nations is closer to the ideals on which it was founded, and to values of inclusion and equality to which the United States is deeply committed."
Earlier this month, Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) rallied behind a campaign headed by Islamic countries, principally Egypt, to block a move to allow the New York-based group to secure accreditation. In a letter to U.N. members, Smith and Franks wrote that "the preservation of the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion require" the gay rights organizations to undergo further questioning of its views.
In previous years, American conservatives like Smith, backed by the White House and the Vatican, exercised enormous influence on social matters at the United Nations. But the letter from Smith and Franks appeared to have backfired, awakening congressional leadership that has grown decidedly more liberal during the past two years.
Within a week, 15 Congressional House members, including powerful committee members like Barney Frank (D-MA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA), sent their own letters urging U.N. members to support the gay rights groups. Sens. Kristen E. Gilbrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) added their voices to the cause. And Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged U.N. members to end the delays.
"It is a tactic that should not be allowed to stand," Kerry wrote in a July 16 letter to U.N. members. "It would be very difficult if this procedural mechanism or other unjustifiable opposition were to be used to prevent an NGO that's highly regarded by the US Department of States and the human rights community from being fully considered for consultative status."
Behind the scenes, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice and her team quietly informed key governments, including African states, of the importance Obama and his administration placed on this issue. Jessica Stern, a policy advisor for IGLHRC, said the diplomacy was critical in persuading African states that might have voted against the measure to abstain or to not show up.
"There is no question that having high-level U.S. government officials make calls on our behalf made a difference, particularly on the high number of abstentions," Stern said, noting that the Bush administration had supported her group's bid for consultative status but never invested the same level of political capital on it. "There was always going to be controversy around our application. But the support of the U.S. government was incredibly significant to the victory we enjoyed yesterday."
Stern and other gay rights activists maintain that U.S. support for gays at the United Nations comes at a time when the Obama administration is facing criticism on the domestic front for not pressing hard enough for gay rights at home.
Stern said that while the outcome may underscore the waning influence of the conservative international religious alliance at the United Nations, it also underscored that those groups could work together to mount a vigorous campaign.
In criticizing the current U.S. position, Smith and Franks drew upon arguments put forward by Egypt and other governments. They cited the Yogyakarta Principles, which the IGLHRC has endorsed and appeals to states to "ensure that the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression does not violate the rights and freedoms of persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities."
In June, when IGLHRC's application came before the U.N. NGO Committee, Egypt expressed concern that the principles might be used to subject religious leaders, who condemn homosexual behavior, to persecution. Smith and Franks said they "have serious questions regarding the IGLHRC's support for the internationally recognized rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression."
Here's how the vote played out:
Votes For - 23
Votes Against - 13
Abstaining - 13
Absent - 5
Egypt led a coalition of conservative countries on Thursday in blocking a well-known New York-based gay rights organization from gaining accreditation as a full-fledged advocacy group by the United Nations, prompting complaints of discrimination by the United States and Britain.
The action came in a meeting at U.N. headquarters of an obscure NGO committee that approves the accreditation of thousands of private lobbyists and advocacy groups that want to work at the United Nations. Since 2007, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has sought U.N. "consultative status," which would allow it to obtain a grounds pass and participate more formally in U.N. meetings on human rights, health, and other issues. But each year, a coalition of conservative countries led by Egypt, Pakistan, and Qatar have delayed action on the group's application, posing dozens of detailed questions they claim have never been adequately answered.
"It's very clear that the vote to block our application from action in the NGO committee is a clear case of discrimination," said Sara Perle, a spokeswoman for the group. "We're not the first NGO to face this kind of discrimination in this committee and I'm sure we won't be the last."
On Thursday, the United States sought to force the committee to vote on the merits of the group's application, but Egypt invoked a procedural "no action" maneuver that will delay consideration for a year.
"This NGO is committed to combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," said Kelly Razzouk, the U.S. representative at the meeting. "It has contributed to valuable research on HIV/AIDS and its work is well known to this committee." The U.S. representative said the group has "answered over 44 written questions, giving delegations more than enough time to ask questions and have those questions answered."
But Egypt's representative, Wael Attiya, said his government was still not satisfied with the U.S. group's answers to a series of questions on how it defines sexual rights. "We have reviewed the answers and thanks. We believe the questions were not answered in a straight way." Attiya also expressed concern about whether the group might promote a worldview that could subject religious leaders to persecution. If a "preacher says that a relationship between a same-sex [couple] is wrong, will the preacher be hunted?" he asked, according to official notes taken at the meeting by a delegation.
Angola, Burundi, China, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, and Sudan backed the Egyptians. Turkey abstained. The United States intends to protest the Egyptian action when the matter is brought before the larger 54-member Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which oversees the work of the NGO committee. ECOSOC generally rubber-stamps the committee's decisions. But that action can be overturned if a country forces another vote in ECOSOC.
"We know from the past that their further responses will never satisfy certain delegations," according to a statement by Britain's representative, Cristina Barbaglia. Along with Romania's delegation, Barbaglia supported the American call for a vote. "Member states are allowed to ask questions, yet at a certain point we have to stop fooling ourselves," she said.
Barbaglia said that the NGO committee -- which is comprised of 19 countries -- "has only rejected applications for consultative status from organizations that have carried out actions against a member state or that have been connected to terrorist activities. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission obviously does not fall into this category. To reject them, therefore, only serves to undermine this important principle."
ECOSOC has previously overruled the NGO committee, approving an application for consultative status last year by a Brazilian gay rights group. But Perle's group would be the first American lesbian and gay rights organization to be granted consultative status.
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U.N. peacekeepers in Chad will begin packing their gear this week, the first step in the U.N.'s phased withdrawal from a politically fragile African country that has grown weary of hosting more than 4,000 foreign peacekeepers on its territory.
But the move has alarmed human rights officials and some U.N. officials, who fear that the U.N. drawdown will leave hundreds of thousands of Darfuri refugees exposed to violent attacks from a host of predators, including elements of the very Chadian security forces that are supposed to protect them.
The U.N. mission in Central Africa and Chad, known as MINURCAT, has warned that Chad's security forces lack the training, leadership, and technical capacity to fill the security vacuum that will be left behind by the U.N.'s departure, according to internal U.N. documents. Both the Chadian army and a U.N.-trained police force -- the Détachement Intégré de Sécurité (DIS), which was established in October 2008 precisely to help provide security for refugee camps -- are considered not up to the job.
"The stated ability of Chadian Military forces to replicate the present operational outputs of [the U.N. force] in an orderly and structured manner is...strongly disputed," according to a security assessment issued by the U.N. peacekeeping mission that was obtained by Turtle Bay. The report claims that "No credible evidence exists that the Chadian military forces have in place the required logistical supply chain" to ensure a safe environment for relief workers and displaced people.
The Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to begin scaling down the mission, while urging Chad to meet its commitment to ensuring the safe delivery of relief supplies to the needy and to protecting refugees and U.N. relief agencies. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the decision and highlighted what he saw as recent improvements in the capacity of the U.N.-trained DIS unit to secure refugee camps, citing more than 7,000 security patrols and aid escort operations.
"Notable advances have also been highlighted in the promotion of the rule of law, including human rights," Ban wrote in a report to the Security Council last month. He also cautioned that he was "mindful that Chad is situated in a region that, despite some recent positive developments, remains fragile.
Nevertheless, in a sign of its lack of confidence in the Security Council's decision, the U.N.'s top refugee agency said Wednesday that it may have to scale back its activities when the U.N. forces withdraw.
"When they leave, we might have to restrict our operations," Mans Nyberg, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told the BBC. "We understand the reasons behind [the decision to withdraw U.N. peacekeepers] but we are concerned for the consequences for our operations in eastern Chad."
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Chad was established in September 2007 to replace a European peacekeeping force tasked with stabilizing Chad's border with Sudan and handling the reception of Darfuri refugees. Chad's leader Idriss Déby never wanted foreign troops on his soil, and only grudgingly accepted them under pressure from France. Déby announced plans to kick the U.N. out in January, after securing a peace agreement with Sudan to secure the border and halt anti-government rebels on both sides.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups, citing the peace deal's failure to provide for the protection of the more than 400,000 thousand refugees and displaced civilians already in Chad, argue that U.N. forces are still urgently needed.
Claudio Cordone, the secretary-general for Amnesty International, said that a provision in the U.N. drawdown resolution that calls for the protection of civilians in some circumstances is a "fig leaf." He urged the council to reconsider its decision from Tuesday, saying it has an obligation to "impose its will" on Chad in order to ensure that civilians are protected. "In a situation where the government says ‘I don't want your troops but they're the only ones who can provide a minimum of security ,' you would be able to impose your will on that government," Cordone told Turtle Bay.
Amnesty and aid workers in Chad have also expressed unease over the ability of the DIS, the U.N.-backed police force, to guarantee security in the camps. DIS has been linked to rights abuses by both the U.N. and human right groups. The U.N. has repeatedly cited DIS for violations ranging from reckless driving to human rights abuses.
"DIS officers have been involved in some serious incidents involving the use of firearms, undermining the confidence of humanitarian actors," according to a July 2009 report by Ban. "To date, four cases of serious misconduct have been recorded, including the murder of a civilian in March and the accidental killing of boy in Joukou Angarana in June. On Tuesday, DIS recruits in the town of Gereda lost control of the Nissan Land Cruiser they were driving and ploughed into a crowd of civilians in the town of Gereda, injuring seven and killing a woman."
Secretary-General Ban, however, has pushed back against the more serious allegations. In his latest report on Chad to the Security Council, Ban said that over the past year the 800-person DIS successfully dismissed 45 officers on disciplinary grounds and conducted thousands of patrols and humanitarian aid escorts.
But U.N. peacekeeping officials have said privately that Ban has exaggerated their accomplishments by relying on unreliable statistics furnished by the Chadian government. They contend that the U.N. has no systematic procedure in place to measure whether the DIS really have been carrying out their patrols.
Libya will be elected Thursday to the U.N. Human Right Council, marking another step in the former American enemy's now well-advanced political rehabilitation on the world stage.
Ever since the Libyan government in 2003 made peace with Washington and abandoned its nascent nuclear weapons program, Tripoli has ascended virtually every important diplomatic body at the United Nations -- including the African Union chairmanship, the U.N. Security Council, and the presidency of the U.N. General Assembly.
Tripoli's growing diplomatic respectability has gnawed at relatives of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103, which in 1988 was bombed by a Libyan agent as it flew over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground. But Republican and Democratic governments have learned to work with Tripoli, and the Obama administration did not mount a campaign to block its election to the rights council, as it did for Iran.
Senior U.S. officials maintain that they can make progress on promoting human rights even when not working with like-minded countries.
"We're working with longstanding and new partners, including partnering with Egypt on freedom of expression and working with some traditional opponents of country resolutions in the African Group to pass a resolution on Guinea in March," said Suzanne Nossel, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations.
The council will formally elect 14 new members tomorrow, including Angola, Libya, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mauritania, Moldova, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Qatar, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Uganda. All the candidates' names have been put forward as part of a slate of candidates previously agreed upon by the U.N.'s key regional groups.
Human rights groups criticized the election of Angola, Libya, and Malaysia, all of which have poor human rights records. They said their success highlighted the need for an end to the U.N. voting practices of selecting the candidates on the basis of a pre-agreed slate. And they criticized the United States and other Western governments that seek to promote human rights for failing to compete openly for their seats on the council.
"Libya's human right situation is only part of the problem," said Peggy Hicks, an expert on the council at Human Rights Watch. "Competitive elections have successfully pushed Iran out and led to the defeat of Sri Lanka, Belarus and Azerbaijan in the past. The quality of the council's membership is only going to improve if states that support human rights push for competition in all regions and are willing to compete themselves."
Human Rights Watch has long criticized Libya's human rights record, but Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization's North Africa and Middle East director, in February described her last visit to Tripoli as a "breakthrough" and cited an overall improvement in the climate for human rights in the country.
Libya since 1969 has been ruled by the mercurial Muammar al-Qaddafi, whose record on human rights remains "poor," according to the U.S. State Department. Speaking last September at the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly, Qaddafi delivered an epic, 100-minute rant, in which he called the Security Council the "Terror Council" and compared the General Assembly to London's Hyde Park, where “you just make a speech and then you disappear.”
Update, May 18, 2010: The sixth paragraph was corrected to 14, not 12, new members, and Guatemala and Ecuador were added to the list. Mauritius was corrected to Mauritania.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.